Welcome back! It’s time for more tips for beginners. This week I will cover accurate piecing tips. Accurate piecing is essential in quilting and a must for all beginners to learn. It’s also great to brush up on these tips as an experienced quilter. I like to go back to these basics even though I been quilting for 30+ years. Sometimes when you do something for years, you start to cut corners. But, cutting corners can lead to blocks and quilts that don’t turn out right. So let’s get started on the tips!
Tip #1 Sew with a 1/4″ Seam
As a beginner you have heard that the 1/4″ seam is essential for accurate piecing. As sewers of clothing are familiar with the 5/8″ seam, so should quilters be with the 1/4″ seam. Patterns are written and pieces are cut for a quilt with this seam allowance built in (unless it’s otherwise noted). There are many things that can effect achieving an accurate 1/4″ seam, but some of the ones I think are most important are needle position, quilting foot and thread thickness.
Needle Position: Needle position is important so that your straight stitched seam is exactly 1/4″ from the edge of the fabric pieces you are stitching. Make sure your needle is in the correct position before stitching units and blocks, especially if you switch needle position when you are doing non-quilting stitching. Here’s how my needle positioning button looks on my machine:
Use scrap fabric, sew a seam as you move the needle incrementally to the right or left until the resulting seam measures 1/4″. This is especially helpful if you do not have a specialty 1/4″ quilting foot on your machine to use as a guide.
Quilting Foot: Some machines meant only for quilting will come with a 1/4″ foot standard. But if your machine does not, I highly recommend you get one. Here’s mine:
But even if you purchase one of these, you still need to test the seam width on scrap fabric before you use it for a project.
Thread Thickness: If you change your thread and it’s a different thickness from the previous thread you have been using, you may need to adjust your needle position to account for more or less thickness. Keep this in mind if you move between different thread brands. You may have to test seams again.
Here’s how to check on your seam allowance as you adjust needle position, allow for thread thickness and also checking that your 1/4″ foot is actually accurate.
First, stitch two scrap strips together using the your 1/4” foot as the guide and then measure the seam.
If you don’t have a 1/4″ foot, there are markings on your machine’s throat plate to use as a guide (I’m pointing the pin to that line on my machine.):
Once you sew that seam and measure it, if it does not measure 1/4″, this is where allowing for thread thickness or inaccuracy of your throat plate markings or sewing foot is managed with needle positioning. You may have to sew several scrap seams and measure to get the right seam measurement. These may seem tedious, but if you want your block units, blocks and quilts to piece together and seams to match up, the 1/4″ seam needs to be consistent throughout.
Tip #2: Pin!!!
I’m known for sometimes skipping this step if I am in a hurry and stitching shorter seams. I’m here to say… do not skip this. It’s important to pin to keep the fabric pieces from shifting while you stitch the seam. One little shift by the top or bottom piece while it is feeding through your machine can cause the unit to not measure correctly because your seam isn’t accurate.
If you are joining blocks together that have multiple seams, pinning is even more important to keep those seams lined up.
Tip #3 Leader/Ender Scrap
This is a tip I learned a few years into quilting. If you use a scrap of fabric to start and end your stitching, it helps to keep your seam straight. Any puckering or skipped stitches will happen on the scrap:
It also gives you the opportunity to make sure you are sewing straight and not veering off your 1/4″ seam.
Tip #4 Press Your Seams Flat
Whether you press your seams to one side or press them open, flat seams are important for your stitched units and blocks to measure accurately. I like to press my seams open, I find it gives me more accurate measurements. Either way you choose to press your seams, make sure no fabric is bunched up anywhere and the seam lays flat on both sides of your piece.
The seam on the left was not pressed so it lays flat on the bottom and the top. You can see the red strip is creased a bit over the seam. The photo on the right shows the seam pressed correctly. That red strip is now flat with no fabric creased.
Also, make sure you are pressing your seams and not ironing them. If you iron across seams, you can distort them causing your unit or block not to measure accurately. Here’s a mini tutorial on pressing seams:
- Use a stiletto or other item to keep the units you are stitching together straight as you feed them under the presser foot. Also, as you are guiding your fabric through, make sure you are not pulling it towards you or holding it too tight because that can cause the top layer of fabric to move slower than the bottom layer is moving across the feed dogs making your seams uneven.
- There are pressure adjustments for your presser foot. Make sure the pressure is strong enough to keep your fabric from slipping out from under the foot when it’s down, but not too strong that it causes your fabric not to move evenly with the feed dogs.
- Finally, backstitch when beginning and when ending a seam to lock it. This will keep the seam of the stitched unit from opening up (photo below). If a seam of a unit opens while you are piecing it into a block, that can lead to a unit or block not measuring correctly.
Well, that’s it for this week. If you have some tips to share or you have questions, use the comments below and you will be entered into the drawing for the two current magazine issues that have my patterns in them.
The drawing will be on Monday, February 28th.***We have a winner! Congrats, Carol!***